Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, tonight Members of both parties will welcome the President to the Capitol as he lays out his plans for the year. We look forward to hearing what he has to say. We also look forward to hearing what Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers has to say, too. She is a leader in our party with a compelling story, someone who truly understands what it means to overcome adversity, someone who is dedicated to helping every single American realize her greatest potential. The people of Washington's Fifth District are lucky to have her, and so are we.
As for the President's speech, this is a pivotal moment in the Obama Presidency. We are now entering our sixth year with President Obama at the helm of our economy, the sixth year of his economic policies. At this point we have seen just about everything in the President's tool box. We had a years-long clinic on the failures of liberalism: the government stimulus, the taxes, the regulations, the centralization, and the government control. It just has not worked.
So 74 percent of the American people say it still feels as if the country is in a recession because to them it still feels like it. As the majority leader likes to say, the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer, and ladders into the middle class have been kicked away, sawed off, and literally regulated into oblivion.
This is the legacy of the Obama economy, as we stand here at the start of 2014. But it does not have to be the legacy President Obama leaves behind in January of 2017, and that is why tonight's address is so important--because it will give us the clearest indication yet of whether the President is ready to embrace the future or whether he will, once again, take the easy route, the sort of reflexive liberal route, and just pivot back to the failed policies of the past. The choice the President now confronts is a pretty basic one. Does he want to be a hero to the left or a champion for the middle class? He can't be both. He has to choose.
He could double down on the failed policies that brought us to this point. It would make his base pretty happy, I am sure, but we certainly know where that path leads for the middle class. Folks can try to package it any way they like--say it is a new focus on income stagnation that has gotten so much worse under this President's watch. But it is essentially the same path we have been on since he took office. The point is this. Americans do not need a new message; they need a new direction. The problem is not the packaging. It never has been. It is the policies themselves, and President Obama is the only person who can force that turn in direction. He is the only one who can lead it.
He could reach to the center tonight and embrace change over the broken status quo, embrace hope over stale ideology--ideology that has led not just to stagnant incomes but to lower median incomes, to dramatic increases in the number of folks forced to take part-time work when what they really want is full-time work, to greater long-term unemployment, and to more poverty. He could ask Members of both parties to help him make 2014 a year of real action rather than just a talking point.
If he does, he is going to find he has a lot of support from Republicans because we want to work with him to get things done, and we always have. We will be listening closely to see if he is finally prepared to meet us in the political middle so we can finally get some important work done for the middle class. Let's be honest; there is a lot that can be done.
For instance, he could call on Senate Democrats to stop blocking all the job-creation bills the House of Representatives has already passed. He could call for revenue-neutral tax reform that would abolish loopholes, lower tax rates for everyone, and jump-start job creation where it counts--in the private sector. He could push his party to join Republicans supporting bipartisan trade promotion legislation, something the President has said is a priority, and work aggressively to clinch the kind of job-creating trade agreements our allies in places such as Canada and Europe and Australia have already been seeking.
He could work with us to reduce the debt and deficit to ensure the programs Americans count on will be there when they retire, to make government smarter and leaner, and to unshackle the growth potential of small businesses and entrepreneurs to address the massive dissatisfaction out there with the size and the scope of government.
If President Obama wants to score an easy win for the middle class, he could simply put the politics aside and approve the Keystone pipeline. The Keystone pipeline is thousands of American jobs very soon. With regard to the Keystone pipeline, he will not even need to use the phone--just the pen. One stroke and the Keystone pipeline is approved.
I know the Keystone issue is difficult for him because it involves a choice between pleasing the left and helping the middle class, but that is exactly the type of decision he needs to make. He needs to make it now. It is emblematic of the larger choices he will need to make about the direction of our country too, because for all of his talk of going around Congress, he would not have to if he actually tried to work with the people's elected representatives every now and then. I am saying don't talk about using the phone, just use the phone and please be serious when you call.
Take the income inequality issue we hear he will address tonight. Is this going to be all rhetoric or is he actually serious, because he is correct to point out that the past few years have been very tough on the middle class. As I indicated, median household income has dropped by thousands since he took office. Republicans want to work with him on this issue but only if he is serious about it. He could show us he is by calling for more choices for underprivileged children trapped in failing schools or he could agree to work with Senator Rand and me to implement Economic Freedom Zones in our poorest communities.
Here is something else: He could work with us to relieve the pain ObamaCare is causing for so many Americans across the country, across all income brackets. I asked him last year to prepare Americans for the consequences of this law. He did not do it. Today those consequences are plain for anyone to see.
Just last night I hosted a tele-townhall meeting where Kentuckians shared their stories about the stress that ObamaCare is causing them and their families: restricted access to doctors and hospitals, lost jobs, lower wages, fewer choices, and higher costs. I assure you these folks will not be applauding when the President is trying to spin this law as a success tonight. More than a quarter million Kentuckians lost the plans that they had and presumably wanted to keep, despite the President's promises to the contrary. This is a law that caused premiums to increase an average of 47 percent in Kentucky and in some cases more than 100 percent. This is a law that in some parts of my State is limiting choices to health care coverage to just two companies in the individual exchange market.
At what cost to the taxpayer for all of this? It is $253 million. That is how much Washington has spent so far for these results in my State--a quarter of a billion dollars to essentially limit care, cancel plans, and increase costs.
Kentucky has gotten more money to set up its exchange than every State except for California, New York, Oregon, and Washington--that is a lot of money--and they still only enrolled 30 percent of the people they were supposed to at this point. How in the world could that be considered a success?
So President Obama and Governor Beshear can keep telling Americans to ``get over it'' if they don't like this law, but sooner or later they are going to have to come to terms with reality. They are going to have to accept that ObamaCare hasn't worked as the administration promised in Kentucky and across America, and it is time to start over with real reform.
That is why tonight I hope the President will make change. I hope he will announce his willingness to work with both parties to start over with real bipartisan reform that can actually lower costs and improve quality of care. That is the kind of reform Kentuckians and Americans want, and that is the way President Obama can show he is serious about having a year of action. This time next year we will be able to judge if he was serious.
If the President is still talking about unemployment benefits next January rather than how to manage new growth, if he is still forced to address the pain of ObamaCare rather than touting the benefits of bipartisan health care reform, if we are trapped in these endless cul de sacs of Keystone and trade and tax reform, then we will know what choice the President made. We will know the special interests won and the middle class lost.
I hope we won't get there. I hope he will reach out tonight. I hope he will be serious. I hope he will help us chart a new path for the American people both parties can support. That may sound like a fantasy to some on the hard left who think tonight is all about them, but the fact is there have always been good ideas the two parties can agree on in Washington--ideas that would make life easier, not harder, for working Americans. Until now the President has mostly chosen to ignore them. Here is hoping for something different tonight.